About Air and Water

Friday, June 29, 2007

Waste transformation generates interest - using waste products to fuel energy in North Texas

By ELIZABETH SOUDER - The Dallas Morning News - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

North Texas is beginning to be fueled by its own filth.

Companies are building several new facilities to turn waste, manure and even smellier stuff into fuel for power plants.

Waste Management Inc. recently fired up a small power generator that runs off the methane produced by its landfill in Ferris, just south of Dallas. The company plans to spend $400 million to add generators to 60 landfills across the country.

MONA REEDER/DMN The Waste Management landfill near Ferris is dotted with gas lines that pop up to vent methane. The gas fuels four generators, pumping out enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes. And Environmental Power Corp. built a plant near Stephenville to turn manure and animal fats into methane. The facility pumps the gas into pipelines and sells it to the Lower Colorado River Authority as power plant fuel.

"The higher the cost of current energy sources, the higher natural gas prices and electricity prices, the more viable the renewable energy sources become," said Russel Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association.

He added that public demand for cleaner energy also spurs such investment.

The only disappointment for environmental advocates is that such plants are small. Each can supply enough electricity for a few thousand households – hardly enough to feed Texas' growing appetite for power.

Eighty-four of Waste Management's 281 U.S. landfills already fuel power plants. Eight landfills in Texas have generators, including one in Lewisville.

And investing in such plants has become a lot more attractive recently as electricity prices rise and regulators require power companies to accumulate renewable energy credits.

Federal tax benefits sweeten the economics.

Now, the country's largest garbage collector plans to install power plants on every landfill it operates with enough methane to run a generator. Sites in Fort Worth and Austin are slated for power plants.

And the company wants to offer its services to other landfill operators to install and run power plants at their sites, too.

The Ferris landfill looks like a grassy hill with a few black pipes sticking out. Those are gas wells that draw off methane produced by the decades-old garbage under ground.

Waste Management must tap the gas and burn it off, or the landfill belches methane. In the past, the company just burned off the gas.

"They're a good investment. It's a cliché, but it's the right thing to do, and it makes use of a fuel that's otherwise flared," said Paul Pabor, vice president of renewable energy for the Houston company.

Now, the methane fuels four yellow Caterpillar generators, each about the size of a compact car. They pump out enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes.

"It used to be a dump," said Kano Galindo, a district manager who oversees the plant. But don't use that term around him, he said; he admires the shiny generators.

The manure and animal-fat processing center near Stephenville isn't quite so squeaky clean or fragrant as the landfill. When the smell of manure wafts past, it's actually a relief from the stench of the animal parts, or "material," as the executives say.

Just like the landfill operator, Microgy, a unit of New Hampshire's Environmental Power Corp., gets its fuel for free.

The plant, which used to be a composting site, takes in manure and materials from dairies and food processing plants.

The waste naturally emits methane when it decomposes. Microgy's eight digesters use microorganisms to hasten that process.

The $13 million plant can churn out up to 635,000 million British thermal units of gas a year. That's enough gas to power around 10,000 homes.

Environmental Power is eyeing another potential revenue stream. By burning the potent greenhouse gas as a fuel, rather than venting it, the facility can qualify for greenhouse gas offset credits.

If the U.S. limits such emissions, those credits could be in high demand.

"We believe that could be equal to or even greater than our gas" business, said Richard Kessel, chief executive of Environmental Power.
See WFAA Report

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Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.




Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):

Astronaut!


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Cosmic CSI

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Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)


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